News Item: Laconia Bike Week Fatal Accidents
(Category: Biker News)
Posted by
Sunday 18 June 2006 - 20:00:49

Laconia – In a week that has seen more motorcycling vacationers dead on the roads of New Hampshire than U.S. soldiers dead on the streets of Baghdad, the coordinator of the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency sees a common thread in most of the nine deaths.

"It's the center line," Peter Thomson said.

"People are crossing over that center line on corners and colliding head-on," he said, "and they are often on their way to Laconia."

Charlie St. Clair, executive director of Laconia Rally and Race Association, said he has been starting conversations with bikers by making the analogy that the center line is "radioactive:" Cross it, even with just the handlebars, and you risk death.

Thomson had been looking forward to a safe Bike Week on New Hampshire's roads. He began a welcoming reception by noting the state had only seen two fatal motorcycle accidents this year, compared to four going into last year's Bike Week.

"I hope we can end the week with that number," he said.

Weirs Beach in Laconia was packed yesterday as motorcylists and fans cruised in. (THOMAS ROY)
But that same day, three bikers were killed in a crash in Stoddard. And while he was out of state at safety conference last week, Thomson's office was having a hard time keeping him up to date on the growing list of fatal accidents.

By daylight yesterday, the death toll had risen to nine after a Connecticut man went off the road and hit a tree early Saturday in Dorchester.

Crowds down, death toll up
This year's nine deaths equals the 2004 Bike Week total. In 2003, there were only nine motorcycle deaths all year, but five were during Bike Week. Last year, the total death toll for bikers was 42, but only three were during Bike Week.

"Over the last five years (the rally death toll) has run from a low of five to a high of nine. We are approaching the high side of the fatalities," Thomson said yesterday morning.

This year's attendance, hampered by poor weather early on, has been considered low.

"Unfortunately, when we have many bikers coming into the area as well as many spectators in automobiles, we run the risk of having these kinds of fatalities," Thomson said.

"I don't think (Bike Week) is something we should stop doing," he said. "We need to be more vigilant in what we are doing — everyone. Both motorists and motorcyclists have to be aware of each other, particularly in these high-density situations."

Police say crossing the center line into oncoming traffic has been a factor in six of the nine deaths and in a number of other serious accidents.

"When you hit head-on, both at 40 miles an hour, that is an 80-mile-an-hour crash," Thomson said.

In Bike Week related accidents in Stoddard, Wolfeboro, Thornton, and Danbury, alcohol was not considered a factor, but the yellow line was.

Thomson said an attitude issue comes into play for riders on their way to Bike Week. "The people who are coming are anxious to get here. They have traveled many miles are tired and tense about getting to their destination."

And they are also often on unfamiliar, winding back roads.

At Weirs Beach, bikers said they were all aware of the number of fatalities, and it was a common topic of conversation.

In Baghdad this week, the Department of Defense reported no fatalities. In New Hampshire, it was looking like a war zone.

More bikes
Before 2004, Bike Week only had a smattering of fatal accidents, Thomson said.

"There were a few years prior to that when it was higher than nine, but not normally," he said.

Some factors he and riders cited include the increasing popularity of motorcycling, the demographic change toward older riders, and the fact that few take motorcycle safety courses.

Motorcycle registrations in New Hampshire have been increasing by about 5 percent a year, to about 65,000, Thomson said. The state is known as having the most motorcycles per capita in the United States.

Of the 27 motorcyclists killed in 2004, only one had taken the safety course. Of the 42 who died in 2005, no more than three had taken the course, which spans three days.

"It is pretty clear to us that taking that course and learning how to handle the motorcycle is important," Thomson said.

A few states require such a class before taking the motorcycle driver's test. But while statistics such as this might get the Legislature to consider mandatory classes in New Hampshire, Thomson said, there is a problem with capacity.

"We already have waiting lists," he said. "And that is not going to cure the issue with out-of-staters coming in."

The state did recently change a law so that if you take the motorcycle test and fail it twice, you are required to take the three-day motorcycle training course.

Thomson said helmet use isn't the issue, even though in most cases of fatal crashes this week, bikers were not wearing them.

"Hitting a tree at 70, (a helmet) is not going to make a difference," he said.

[Submitted by tank151]

This news item is from White Trash Networks
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